The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX: Bahrain : Mercs Light Up The Night Sky

16-04-2014

With debate still echoing around the FIA hierarchy over how our beloved F1 machinery now sounds more like a squadron of US Air Force drones than the screaming banshees we are accustomed to, it may easily have escaped attention we are already into Race 3 of a busy F1 2014 calendar. However what a race we savoured in Bahrain. Forget about super licence points, court hearings, fuel saving strategies, and whether more burly combatants can carry drinks, this turned out to be Grand Prix racing of epic proportions. The Sakhir Circuit located 30Kms west of the capital Manama in the Kingdom of Bahrain played host for the 10th time to this year’s event and it was announced, touchingly, just ahead of the meeting, that the first corner here will be named in honour of Michael Schumacher – the first winner here.

In 2013 Lotus cars were the main challengers to Red Bull – what a difference a year makes.

This year’s event was staged for the first time under stars. Well – to be precise under stars but with every metre of this 5.4Km circuit illuminated using some 50,000 floodlight bulbs (so much for any new ‘green’ credentials).

Smart money at the outset was on Mercedes repeating another 1-2 finish in Bahrain and thereby breaking for the second time in only a week an almost 60 year absence from the top two podium steps. For Ferrari fortunes could only improve on last year with Fernando managing only 8th after repeated DRS failure and Felipe out of the points altogether with tyre and front wing maladies.

As Friday’s FP1 unfolded in normal daylight conditions, many teams restricted time on track, doubtless having already amassed a mountain of data from the winter test sessions held here only a few short weeks ago. True to form the Mercedes drivers, Lewis then Nico, were indeed quickest in FP1, closely followed by Fernando and the other Nico, again doing his ever growing reputation no harm whatsoever. FP2 was more representative of race conditions being in twilight. Mercedes though, again topped the time sheets and were the only cars ducking under the 1.35 second barrier finishing in the same order as FP1. Fernando slipped in third just over 0.5 second adrift on 1.35.36 despite being sent out on one occasion shod with a mix of soft and option tyres! Kimi reported being uncomfortable with the car set up and only managed 14th quickest, 2 seconds off Hamilton’s pace. His day not helped by kerb contact whilst flying through Turn 4 that partly broke the floor of the F14T.

The three pointed stars continued in the ascendency in qualifying with a dominant display throughout each session. Nico gained the edge on his team mate in Q2 using tyres that rules dictate must of course be deployed to start the race. In Q3 Lewis had a big lock up into Turn 1 that put paid to any chances of him again being pole sitter. Q2 claimed the scalp of Vettel, blaming downshift problems (and possibly sensor damage after a big excursion in FP3). To a less jaw dropping extent, Hulkenberg and the two Lotus cars, also failed to make Q3. Fernando by his standards and expectations after looking strong in practice, finished in last place in the qualifying shoot out. The precise rationale seemed unclear, other than the Spaniard reporting a progressive fall off in engine power at each qualifying session and weak straight line speed. New exhaust manifolds flown in overnight to help didn’t seem to have much effect. Kimi meanwhile seemed happier in F14T than earlier after making changes to the car set up to adapt it more to his driving style. His reward was 6th quickest but with a 10 place grid penalty handed to the hapless Ricciardo (after the unsafe pit release at Sepang – hardly the fault of the Aussie), the Finn would start 5th and Fernando 9th.

All Mercedes powered cars clearly have the upper hand this season. The Williams Team in particular revelling in their good fortune, having just switched to the German power units. Both Grove cars looked racy on rows 2 and 4 to add to their 20 points already bagged this season. Force India too were strong in qualifying with 4th place for Perez who, like last year, showed aggression at Sakhir, grabbing the limelight for once from team mate Hulkenberg.

The 107% start rule from qualifying still applies of course, but it is interesting that no team has come close to this lowly time. Chilton, for example, on the back row, finished a comfortable 3.5 seconds off potential exclusion under the rule. There’s a clue here as to the competitiveness of the whole grid.

Then to the race, and what a hell of a race, with all 22 cars lined up on the grid this time, and all away ’cleanly’. Lewis gained the upper hand in the run down to Turn 1 and despite Nico’s attempts to squeeze the Brit to the inside, Hammy took the lead. Massa made a lightening start just behind to take P3 followed by Perez and Bottas. From there we were treated effectively to two races for the price of one, with a late safety car bunching everyone up again. The Mercedes boys, whilst in a class of their own, were joined at the hip, or should I say the tyre side walls, for what seemed like the whole race. Howls over the team radio demanding both drivers must bring their cars home safely, seemed to fall on deaf ears, and only the supreme skills of these two speedsters narrowly avoided a coming together. Great stuff. Behind the action was just as intense. Not here were we reliant upon team radios to tell us who effectively was racing who, net of tyre choice, pit stops, or fuel use, it just all happened in front of your eyes. There was just as much intra team scrapping going on as gunning for the opposition, all adding to the spectacle. Force India against Force India, Williams against Williams and in between somewhere Jenson trying to make the most of his 250th grand prix start. Alas both JB and his team mate eventually succumbed to clutch problems and retired. One of the few team orders heard actually came from Red Bull, but in Ricciardo’s favour, who at the time was circling quicker than Vettel on soft compound tyres.

It was at this point I suddenly remembered I am penning these comments for the benefit of members of the Ferrari Owners’ Club and I have failed so far to mention either of the two of our beloved heroes and past world champions. The good news is they both finished in the points, the bad news is only just. Fernando was resigned to the fact that 9th on the grid and in the race was sadly representative of where the competitiveness of the F14T currently sits. Kimi was similarly downbeat with his 10th place after a very poor start and some contact with Magnussen. Both drivers felt Sakhir is not ideally suited to the characteristics of F14T and look forward to test sessions in the next few days to try and up Ferrari’s game in the lead up to China. We wish them well in this quest.

In the end Lewis took the win by a 1 second margin from Nico, both displaying superlative race craft to the end. For me an amazing drive by the dark horse, Perez, completed the podium. Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Vettel, Massa, and Bottas filled the other points scoring places down to the two Ferraris.

Click here for FIA lap chart.

Stefano Domenicali:“This race provided an epilogue to a weekend which turned out to be as difficult as we had thought it would be, even before arriving in Bahrain. This circuit is particularly tough for our car and Sakhir’s technical characteristics showed up the gaps in our performance. The team must not get downhearted, even if things have not turned out the way they should so far. They must continue to work in order to step up a gear as quickly as possible.”

Fernando Alonso:“Today’s race was complicated for us, even if we knew what to expect because, with its long straights, this track shows up our weak points. The team did a super job and sorted the problem I had yesterday in the final part of qualifying and the start and strategy were perfect. The Safety Car helped us make up a bit of ground on the cars ahead of us and also allowed us to save fuel, but it was not enough to change the result, with eight cars ahead of us doing a better job.”

Kimi Raikkonen: “I am very disappointed with today’s result, because after how qualifying went, I expected to do better. I didn’t get a good start and immediately lost some places. On the first lap, I was hit by Magnussen, luckily without it doing any damage, but trying to move up the order at this point was very difficult, because the lack of aero downforce and speed on the straight meant overtaking was complicated. We knew this track was less suited to the characteristics of our car than the first two and that the Mercedes would be very quick.”

Pat Fry:“Today, we could not have asked more of our car and drivers, because here, our most limiting factor was a lack of top speed. That meant we had to run a defensive race and even if in the middle sector, the one with the most corners, the F14 T was competitive, it was not enough to allow Fernando and Kimi to attack our rivals. In Maranello, we are working on solutions to ensure better power delivery and better driveability.